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Eli’s Comin’

The World According to Billy Eli by Michael Buffalo Smith

The first time I heard of Billy Eli, I was doing some freelance writing for the (sadly) now defunct Twisted South magazine, as well as co- hosting their weekly radio program. I was imme- diately drawn in by the Texan’s song writing and unique vocal style. He was like some sort of abstract hybrid of Johnny Cash, Townes Van Zandt and Jason Ringenberg (Jason and the Scorchers).

It wasn’t long before I had his Hell Yeah! CD, and was playing “People Like Us” in regular rota- tion on my own internet radio show. Long story short, I am now a dyed in the wool, hard core fan of the Eli man.

What follows is the interview I wish I had been able to do when Billy came onto my radio pro- gram here ‘while back. Of course, there wasn't time for a long interview then, but in print, we can expound upon the life and music of this fine artist. So here we go. Grab a Lone Star beer, and put on them reading glasses.

Tell me about where you were born and raised? What was your life like early on? I was born in Livingston Texas, a little town about an hour north of Houston. For the most part I was raised there as well, at least after 1970. My first eight years though, we moved around all along the Gulf Coast and even lived in Europe for a while. My father was a pipeliner so every few months we moved on down the line. I've lived in

some of the finest trailer parks in south Louisiana. (Laughs) Until I started second grade, me, my parents, and my younger sister bumped around the country living in a trailer that we pulled from place to place.

When we were traveling I'd usually ride with the old man and he'd play the radio. He also liked to browse the record rack at the truck stops when we'd stop for gas.

After attending four different schools my first grade year my folks decided to base out of Livingston. So Billy Vernon (my father) parked the trailer behind the wrecking yard his mother owned. A few years later when they decided that Livingston was going to be it, they built a house. My upbringing was probably pretty typical of anybody else in a small southern town except that even though my parents are still married it was mostly a single parent upbringing since Billy Vernon was almost always gone. Sissy (my moth- er) took care of everything domestic. Billy Vernon made sure we didn't run out of money. Sissy’s mother and stepfather farmed and ranched and after I was 12 or so I stayed at their house a lot.

By the time I was 15 I was working summers on the pipeline and when I was 16 I started spending the summers living on my own in what- ever town we happened to be working. That was a whole different kind of education. It wasn't the typical teenage summer job flipping burgers. I was always the youngest guy in the crew by about 25 years.


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